July 5, 2011

How Fireworks are like Online Communities

Since not everyone has access to Google+ yet, I'm cross-posting this here:

I grew up alternating my 4th of July's between very large, city sponsored events and small town Main Street America celebrations. The big city event would involve packing a picnic, blanket, some lawn darts, and staking out a spot in a grassy park with the family. There were easily 15,000 other families in the park, but every family pretty much did their own thing. There would be a concert (Paul Revere and the Raiders, on their perennial comeback tour, was a favorite group) to help the afternoon pass quickly. The toughest part of the day was after sunset when it was too dark to play, but not dark enough to start the fireworks. Those moments were eternities of time for a 9 year old. Finally, at the appointed time, the show would begin. A good display could last for 45 minutes often with stretches of just a few fireworks timed to the music. Then there was the walk to the car, or sometimes the long walk home, and blissful sleep awaiting tired legs at the end of the journey.

The small town celebration was an all day affair too. A parade would be the highlight of the day. Some small towns do the parade better, and the one I attended, at Grass Valley/Nevada City, CA had one of the best. From the Ophir Prison Marching Band, to floats tossing candy to kids, to high school bands who united even after school had been adjourned for weeks. After the parade everyone adjourned to a nearby park for picnics and a fireworks display. These weren't as long or as powerful as the big city shows, but no one cared. For the small town it was all about the community being unified behind a common cause. At the end of the night, the result was the same -- a long journey home for tired legs and feet.

Now that I have my own family, I find us not participating in either option above. Our neighborhood has a number of residents who put on their own smaller displays. Then the neighbors in our cul-de-sac put together a little show of ground level firework. Each 4th of July has become a way of bringing our little corner of the world together. It's a much smaller community, but seems no less important to me.

When I'm looking for new online communities, I keep in mind my experience of different sized community events, like these fireworks displays, and remember that each community has its own attributes, goals, needs, and growth trajectory. Sometimes it's a giant public display, and sometimes it's all about sharing things with those closest to you. It's all good. Just participate and enjoy.

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